Fayette sheriff's office could take on some duties of jail

The office of the Fayette County sheriff already has taken over funeral escorts for a cash- and personnel-strapped police department, and now it is considering additional responsibilities that would cut costs for the jail.

Interim jail director Ray Sabbatine and Sheriff Kathy Witt told the Urban County Council's public safety committee Tuesday that the jail eventually could reduce costs and improve service if the sheriff's office took over two jobs now done by corrections officers.

The plan would allow court security officers employed by the sheriff to take prisoners to and from jail and court, and sheriff's deputies would monitor inmates in the Community Alternative Program, a home incarceration program for low-risk, non-violent offenders.

Putting those duties in the hands of the sheriff's office would free corrections officers to undertake other jobs in the jail, helping alleviate mandatory overtime caused by staff shortages, Sabbatine said.

"I think in narrowing the scope of the jail perspective ... we can go back to doing those things we do best," he said.

Having a larger in-house staff also would allow the jail to house more federal prisoners, for which the jail receives a daily stipend.

Sabbatine also said deputy sheriffs with full law-enforcement authority are better equipped and trained to monitor inmates in the Community Alternative Program, or CAP. If more offenders could be enrolled in the program and monitored effectively, the jail would have more room for federal inmates, he said.

County jails receive $70 a day for each federal inmate they house. Eighty additional federal inmates at the Fayette County Detention Center could net an additional $1.2 million a year, Sabbatine told council members.

Councilwoman Diane Lawless, head of the public safety committee, agreed that court transports and CAP potentially could be done cheaper and more effectively by the sheriff's office, which receives state and federal funding and grants.

Most of the cost savings would come from employee classification, Witt said. Corrections officers are classified as hazardous-duty employees, but court security officers are not.

That means the sheriff's office would pay only half as much toward a court security officer's retirement fund as the detention center pays its employees.

The state would pay the sheriff's office $8 an hour toward the court security officer's salary, Lawless said. Jail employees do not receive that stipend.

"It's money that's laying on the table that we don't get back, but if the sheriff's office took over the transportation, at least that much would be recovered," she said.

Witt said that it would take much discussion and planning before the changes could occur but that her office was willing to accept additional responsibilities. The possibility of the sheriff's department absorbing additional responsibilities came up at least twice this summer.

In July, the public safety committee launched a study to determine who should run the jail and, specifically whether it should be Witt. Sabbatine, a former longtime director of the jail and a national authority on inmate risk assessment, was named interim director in July. He took the reins last month after Ron Bishop retired.

In August, the sheriff's office began escorting funeral processions in Lexington after the Lexington Division of Police stopped performing the service because of budget cuts.

"The only way that we can fully serve the community is by working together and sharing resources," Witt said.